Detailed Synopsis of ‘Julius Caesar’

Act One: The citizens of Rome are celebrating Caesar’s defeat of Pompey, having Caesar’s statues “deck’d with ceremonies”.  Flavius and Marullus, tribunes sympathetic to Pompey and annoyed with Caesar’s growing power, rebuke the people and tell them to disperse and end the celebrations.  After the people leave, the two tribunes start taking the “trophies” off the statues.

Caesar, his wife Calpurnia, his friends Brutus and Mark Antony, Cassius, and Casca enter, triumphant after Pompey’s defeat.  Mark Antony is to run a race in the celebratory games of the Lupercalia.  A soothsayer warns Caesar of the upcoming March 15th (see quote 1 of my ‘Analysis of Julius Caesar‘), the day Caesar was murdered in 44 BC.  The soothsayer is ignored, and Mark Antony goes to run the race, being followed by all except Brutus and Cassius.

Cassius asks Brutus why he seems not to show him friendship as he had before.  Brutus insists he’s never grown cold to Cassius, but rather is preoccupied with his own personal issues.  They hear, from over where the race is being run, cheers for Caesar.  Brutus says he fears the people will make Caesar their king.  Emboldened, Cassius begins discussing Caesar’s alarming rise to power (see quote 2 of my ‘Analysis’).  He tries to convince Brutus of Caesar’s unworthiness of such ascendancy, citing two examples of weakness in a younger Caesar: once, Caesar in a swimming race with Cassius, gasped for help when almost drowning; another time, Caesar complained of sickness.  “And this man/Is now become a god,” gripes Cassius.

Brutus, a good friend of Caesar’s, says he will consider what Cassius has said.  Caesar and all the others return.  Caesar looks with suspicion on Cassius, and tells Mark Antony of his misgivings.  Mark Antony tells him not to fear Cassius.

Casca meets with Brutus and Cassius. He tells them of what happened during the race.  When Brutus and Cassius ask Casca what the cheering was about, Casca explains that Mark Antony three times offered Caesar a small but kingly coronet; Caesar refused it each time, though each refusal was weaker and weaker.  Casca, as much as Cassius, fears Caesar’s rise to power.  He says that Cicero gave a speech in Greek, something some of the others understood, but not Casca (see quote 3).  Then Casca mentions the arresting of Flavius and Marullus for having removed garlands from Caesar’s statues.

Casca, leaving, accepts an offer to dine with Cassius and further discuss these matters, if the meal is good.  Brutus also leaves.  Cassius, alone, tells of his plan to forge letters complaining of Caesar’s disturbing rise to power, and to have them delivered in the windows of Brutus’ home; this deceit, Cassius hopes, will convince Brutus to join the conspirators.

On the night before the ides of March, there is a terrible, frightening storm, full of omens portending the assassination of Caesar.  Casca fearfully discusses these portents with Cicero and Cassius.  Cassius has fellow conspirator Cinna cause a few more forged letters to be in Brutus’ possession.

Act Two: Brutus, troubled and unable to sleep, walks about his home, thinking about his friend Caesar and his problematic ascent to dictator.  While Brutus sees no actual evidence of ambition in Caesar, he recognizes the reality of ambition in most politicians, and their contempt for those below them.  Lucius, Brutus’ young servant, gives him one of Cassius’ letters; the boy then confirms that the next day will be the ides of March, and he goes to the door to let in the just-arrived conspirators.

Cassius introduces them to Brutus: they include Casca, Cinna, Trebonius, Decius Brutus, Metellus Cimber, and Ligarius.  Cassius suggests killing Mark Antony along with Caesar: Brutus rejects this idea, preferring to minimize violence and seeing no need to fear Mark Antony.  They agree to this and leave.

Brutus isn’t alone again for long; Portia, his wife, comes to ask him what’s troubling him.  He denies feelings of inquietude.  She insists that if he truly honoured her as his wife, he would tell her: though regarded as women are in this patriarchal society, she is of noble birth.  She proves her constancy to him by showing him a wound she’s given herself in the leg.  He wonders how he can be worthy of such an honourable wife.

The next morning, in Caesar’s home, Calpurnia complains to her husband of a terrible nightmare she’s had.  Reminding him of the recent ill omens, she begs him not to go to the Capitol that day.  Caesar insists he has nothing to fear; she insists he’s over-confident (see quote 4).  The entrails of a slain animal are examined for omens: the beast has no heart.  Finally, to allay her fears, he says he won’t go.

Decius Brutus arrives in Caesar’s home to take him to the Capitol, but Caesar refuses to go.  Decius Brutus asks for a reason: not wishing to seem weak, Caesar says, “The cause is in my will: I will not come.”  Then Caesar tells him of his wife’s dream–a statue of Caesar spouting not water but blood, in which many Romans wash their hands.

Decius Brutus reinterprets the dream, saying it symbolizes how Caesar will suck reviving blood of Rome; he need fear no danger at the Capitol, where the Senate will offer him a crown.  They may change their minds, however, if he doesn’t go: this piques Caesar’s ambition, and now he is embarrassed at having listened to his fearful wife.  He is resolved to go to the Capitol.

The other conspirators arrive, as does Mark Antony.  They go with Caesar to the Capitol.

Artemidorus, a Sophist, has written a letter for Caesar to read, warning him of the conspirators.

Portia has her servant, Lucius, go to the Capitol to see if Brutus is well.  She speaks with the soothsayer about whether Caesar is at the Capitol or not.  The soothsayer wishes to warn Caesar again.  She continues to fear for her husband and his plot against Caesar.

Act Three: Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, Casca, Decius Brutus, Metellus Cimber, Trebonius, Cinna, Mark Antony, Lepidus, Artemidorus, and the soothsayer are before the Capitol.  Caesar says to the soothsayer, “The ides of March are come.”  The soothsayer says, “Ay, Caesar, but not gone.”

Artemidorus tries to give Caesar his letter, but Decius Brutus stops him by having Caesar read a letter of Trebonius instead.  Cassius then tells Brutus his fears that the conspiracy is publicly known; Brutus reassures him that all is well, for Popilius Lena is taking Caesar aside.  Trebonius similarly takes Mark Antony aside, distracting him.  All preparations are being made to ensure that the assassination runs as smoothly as possible.  Caesar and the conspirators enter the Capitol.

Metellus Cimber begs Caesar to repatriate his banished brother Publius; Caesar refuses to.  The other conspirators kneel before Caesar one by one, asking of him the same repatriation; of course, they’re really distracting him.

Finally, Casca says, “Speak, hands, for me!” and gives Caesar the first stab.  The other conspirators brandish their blades and stab him; Brutus, the last one, stabs Caesar, who gasps his feelings of betrayal before dying (see quote 5).  The conspirators triumphantly proclaim liberty for Rome, promising no harm to any of the stunned senators still in the Capitol.

Brutus tells the conspirators to bathe their hands in Caesar’s blood.  Cassius imagines actors in the future performing plays of this great moment in history.  The conspirators plan to go outside to appease the terrified citizens and explain why they killed Caesar.

Mark Antony enters the room and coolly shakes the hands of the conspirators; though outraged, he must hide his fury for the sake of his safety.  He claims to be their friend, asking only for a just reason for Caesar’s murder.  Brutus promises to be generous with such reasons, and allows Mark Antony to honour Caesar’s memory in his funeral, so long as the conspirators aren’t vilified.

Cassius takes Brutus aside, saying it will be dangerous to allow Mark Antony to address the crowd.  Brutus reassures him that allowing Caesar’s friend to speak for him in his funeral will make the conspirators look generous.

The conspirators go outside to speak to the people and to calm them.  Alone, Mark Antony finally expresses his rage, begging Caesar’s pardon for being “gentle with these butchers.”  Over Caesar’s wounds, he prophesies all of Rome rising in civil war to avenge Caesar’s murder, killing scores of men to appease Caesar’s ghost (see quote 6).

Outside, Brutus addresses the people, explaining that while he was friend to Caesar, he was more friend to Rome in killing him, out of a fear that he would turn tyrant.  Only those un-Roman enough to want to be slaves to Caesar would be offended at Brutus’ slaying of him.  The easily manipulated crowd now sympathizes with Brutus.

Mark Antony comes out with Caesar’s bloody body.  Brutus asks everyone to stay and listen to Mark Antony; Brutus leaves.

The angry crowd, now hating Caesar, at first refuse to listen to his friend’s cries for their attention (see quote 7).  In a masterstroke of political rhetoric, Mark Antony turns the crowd’s sympathies back to Caesar and away from the conspirators by only sarcastically calling them “honourable men/Whose daggers have stabb’d Caesar” (see also quote 8), and reminding the people of Caesar’s generosity to them.  By the end of Antony’s speech, when he’s disclosed Caesar’s will–giving all Romans the freedom to enjoy walking about his private parks and orchards, and giving each Roman 75 drachmas–after teasingly delaying the will’s revelation, the people riot in the streets.  Mark Antony is content to have this disorderly rage, for he can use it to his political advantage.

The rioters find a poet who, after revealing his name to be Cinna (unluckily also a name of one of the conspirators), is killed by them.

Act Four: Mark Antony, Octavius (the future emperor Augustus) and Lepidus form the Second Triumvirate, and check off a list of those to be executed for their involvement in the conspiracy against Caesar.  After Lepidus is sent off to Caesar’s home to fetch the will, Antony disparages him as the weakest of the three triumvirs.  Octavius defends Lepidus, calling him “a tried and valiant soldier,” though Antony won’t acknowledge this.  (In the interactions between Antony and Octavius, there is a hint of the antagonism that would be fully developed in another Shakespearean Roman tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra.)  They will prepare their armies to fight those of Brutus and Cassius.

Cassius comes to where Brutus’ army is, and angrily enters Brutus’ tent.  He says Brutus has done him wrong in accusing soldiers in his army of taking bribes.  Brutus is not at all moved by Cassius’ sword and threats, for Brutus is “arm’d so strong in honesty”, and despises all corruption, be it that of Caesar or of Cassius.

Cassius is thus put in his place, and shocked when Brutus speaks of Portia’s suicide by swallowing fire, after worrying so much of her husband’s fortunes.  Titinius and Messala enter the tent, and the four men discuss the coming battle: Cassius believes they should wait for the enemy to come, tired from marching, while their own armies are well-rested; Brutus, not wanting the enemy to gain the aid of the men “in a forc’d affection” between the armies of the enemy and those of Brutus and Cassius, would have their armies march ahead to meet the enemy (see quote 9).  Messala tells Brutus of Portia’s suicide: Brutus responds stoically.

Brutus is left alone in his tent at night; his weary servant, Lucius, plays a tune on his harp, but falls asleep in the middle of playing.  Brutus, wishing to be kind to the boy, lets him sleep, then begins reading a book.

Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus, saying they’ll meet again in Philippi.  Frightened Brutus wakes the boy and two other servants of his, asking if they’ve seen or heard anyone: they haven’t.

Act Five: Antony and Octavius meet with Brutus and Octavius, exchanging harsh words before preparing for battle.  Brutus and Cassius say farewell, knowing this may be the last time they see each other.

The battles begin, and though Brutus’ army is fairly successful at first, Cassius’ is clearly losing.  When he mistakenly thinks his best friend Titinius has been captured by the enemy, he feels ashamed to be still living, and has Pindarus stab him with the sword he used on Caesar.  Titinius returns with good news of the battle, but seeing his good friend Cassius dead, kills himself.  Brutus comes by and sees the two dead men; he notes the power of Caesar after death, causing his enemies to kill themselves.

In the final battle, Brutus’ army is losing, and he asks soldier after soldier to hold his sword while he runs on it; all of them refuse except Strato.  As Brutus is dying, he hopes Caesar’s spirit will rest in peace (see quote 10).

Mark Antony and Octavius arrive and look down on Brutus’ body.  Antony praises Brutus, the only conspirator to act not out of envy of Caesar, but for the good of Rome.  Octavius calls for rejoicing over their victory.

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Detailed Synopsis for ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Induction: Christopher Sly, a drunken tinker, rudely refuses to pay for his ale in an alehouse in England, annoying the hostess.  He falls asleep at his chair.

A lord and his men come to the alehouse after a hunt.  They see Sly asleep, and regarding him as contemptuously as the hostess has, the lord decides to play a trick on him.  He tells his men to carry the drunkard to his bedchamber.  There, they will trick him into thinking he’s a lord.

The lord has his page, the boy Bartholomew, dress up as a woman and pretend to be Sly’s dutiful, obedient wife.  When Sly wakes up, he finds himself wearing a lord’s bedclothes, and lying in a luxurious bedchamber.  Naturally confused, he insists he’s Christopher Sly the tinker; they say his identity as a tinker is the result of a dream he’s had during a fifteen-year coma, from which he’s just woken, to the tears of joy of his long-suffering wife.

The lord says Sly will now watch ‘a pleasant comedy’ that a group of actors has prepared.  Sly’s doctors say the entertainment will be good for his recovery.  The play begins:

Act One: Lucentio and his servant Tranio are entering Padua, since Lucentio is to study at the university there.  They see Baptista Minola and his two daughters, the shrewish Katherina and her younger sister Bianca.  Two suitors to Bianca, the elderly Gremio and foolish Hortensio, are disappointed to hear that Baptista won’t allow any wooing of Bianca until a husband can be found for Katherina.

Lucentio falls in love with the pretty Bianca instantly, forgetting all about his studies while focusing all his energy on winning her love.  Though Baptista won’t allow her to be married until the ‘too rough’ Katherina is wed, he wishes to find music and poetry teachers for both his daughters.  Lucentio thus plans to disguise himself as a Latin poetry teacher, calling himself ‘Cambio’.  Tranio is to pretend he’s Lucentio, and woo Bianca in the real Lucentio’s stead.  Master and servant swap clothes in the street, when Biondello, another servant of Lucentio’s, arrives, all confused to see his master dressed as Tranio, and vice versa.  Lucentio explains the whole plan to Biondello.

(The actors note that Christopher Sly, bored with the play, is nodding off.  He politely insists that he’s enjoying the performance, asking if there’s more…Actually, he wishes it was already over.)

Petruchio and his servant Grumio enter Padua.  Petruchio would have Grumio knock at the door of Hortensio’s home; and when Grumio grows argumentative over Petruchio’s ambiguous words, Petruchio threatens to knock his servant over the head.  When Grumio shouts in fear of his ‘mad’ master, Hortensio appears.

Petruchio and Hortensio greet each other, and Petruchio explains that his father has died, and he, without money, hopes to marry a woman and get a generous dowry.  He doesn’t care what the bride is like, as long as he gets lots of money.  The fact that Petruchio is Hortensio’s good friend is a deterrent from Hortensio telling Petruchio about the shrewish Katherina.  Still, Petruchio would get a good dowry from Baptista, so he willingly accepts.

Delighted with the hope of Katherina soon being married off, Hortensio tells Petruchio of his plan to disguise himself as ‘Licio’, a teacher of the lute.

Gremio comes with ‘Cambio’, hoping the would-be Latin teacher will woo Bianca on his behalf.  When Hortensio tells Gremio of Petruchio’s intention to marry Katherina, Gremio worries that Petruchio will change his mind when he learns of “all her faults.”  Petruchio reassures the others that he, being used to the harsh sounds of war, has no fear “of a woman’s tongue.”

Tranio appears, calling himself ‘Lucentio’ and telling everyone of his plan to woo Bianca, to the annoyance of Gremio and Hortensio.    All the men go to the Minolas’ house.

Act Two:  Angry and envious Katherina has Bianca’s hands tied, and demands that her sister tell her which man she loves the most.  Bianca says that she doesn’t love any particular man yet.  Katherina hits her.  Baptista comes over to break up the fight, pitying poor Bianca and unbinding her hands.  She leaves.  Katherina grows more enraged, imagining their father loves Bianca more, and that Bianca will be married first, thus shaming elder Katherina, who leaves in a fury.  Baptista laments his ill fortune as a father.

All the suitors arrive.  Gremio greets Baptista, and Petruchio asks about Katherina, praising her “beauty and her wit,/Her affability and bashful modesty./Her wondrous qualities and mild behaviour.”  Everyone hearing these words cannot believe his ears.  Petruchio introduces ‘Licio’ to Baptista as the girls’ music teacher.

Gremio introduces ‘Cambio’ to Baptista.  ‘Lucentio’ introduces himself as a suitor to Bianca.  A servant leads ‘Cambio’ and ‘Licio’ to the girls to begin their lessons.  Petruchio asks Baptista of the dowry he’ll receive for marrying Katherina.  Baptista offers a generous dowry, which more than satisfies Petruchio.  The only challenge will be gaining the shrew’s love.  Petruchio has no fears of not gaining it.  (See the first quote from my ‘Analysis of The Taming of the Shrew‘.)

‘Licio’ enters the room, his head beaten.  He explains how he tried to explain the proper fingering of the lute to Katherina, who’d gotten it wrong.  Angry with his corrections, she broke the lute over his head.  Petruchio is delighted, saying he loves her all the more, and eagerly wishing “to have some chat with her.”

Baptista goes to send her over to meet Petruchio.  As he is waiting, Petruchio goes over his plan to deny her every word of nastiness or unwillingness to marry him.  He’ll insist she’s sweet and gentle instead, as well as eager to marry him.

Katherina arrives: Petruchio addresses her as ‘Kate’.  She says she’s known as Katherina, but he insists she’s ‘Kate’.  She scoffs at his plans to marry her.  The arguing between them escalates till she slaps him for making a lewd joke.

When Baptista returns with Gremio and ‘Lucentio’, Petruchio denies Katherina’s reputed shrewishness and unwillingness to marry him, claiming her nastiness is all just an act she puts on in public, while privately she’s sweet and mild (and the only time to know a woman for real is in private).  They’ll be married on Sunday.  (She’d have him hanged then instead.)

The others would much prefer Petruchio’s story to hers, so the wedding is settled.  Now gleeful Baptista is ready to accept the best dowry offer of Gremio or ‘Lucentio’.  The latter offers a better one, so as long as ‘Lucentio’ can prove that his father can pay the dowry, Baptista prefers him as a husband for Bianca.  Baptista and Gremio leave.  Now Tranio must find someone to pretend to be Vincentio, Lucentio’s father.

Act Three:  ‘Cambio’ and ‘Licio’ are vying over who gets to teach, and therefore woo, Bianca.  ‘Cambio’ wins, slipping in his wooing words between Latin phrases; meanwhile, ‘Licio’ is tuning his lute.  Bianca tells ‘Cambio’, in Latin phrases alternating with her responding words, that he must try harder to win her heart, but not give up, for she clearly prefers him.  ‘Licio’ increasingly suspects him to be a suitor rather than a teacher; he also increasingly realizes he’s losing the suit.

On Sunday at the church, everyone is waiting for the very late Petruchio to arrive.  Katherina complains that everyone will say, “Lo, there is mad Petruchio’s wife,/If it would please him come and marry her!”  Indeed, Baptista acknowledges that she has good reason to be angry.

Finally, Petruchio and Grumio arrive, but they are dressed absurdly.  Biondello describes Petruchio as wearing “a new hat and an old jerkin; a pair of old breeches thrice turn’d; a pair of boots that have been candle-cases, one buckled, another lac’d…”, et cetera.  The others chide Petruchio for his clothes, and offer him better ones to change into.  He insists Katherina’s marrying him, not his clothes.  She very unwillingly goes with him into the church.

The comical goings-on during the ceremony are described by Gremio.  Petruchio “swore so loud/That, all amaz’d, the priest let fall the book;/And as he stoop’d again to take it up,/This mad-brain’d bridegroom took him such a cuff/That down fell priest and book, and book and priest.”

Petruchio and Katherina come out of the church, but he refuses to attend the wedding party, claiming he has urgent business to attend to back home.  Katherina won’t go with him, and the others sympathize with her; but he insists she’s his ‘goods’, his ‘chattels’, his ‘any thing’.  Acting like a madman, he pretends the others are trying to take her away, and he and Grumio, brandishing swords, claim to be protecting her as they take her with them to Verona.  An exasperated Baptista allows them to go.

Act Four: In Petruchio’s country house in Verona, Grumio arrives first, telling Curtis, another servant, of Petruchio’s mad, ungentlemanly treatment of Katherina during the journey from Padua to Verona.  She fell off her horse and into the mire, and he wouldn’t help her back on; he beat Grumio instead.  Grumio then tells Curtis to have all the servants ready to meet their master and Katherina.

Petruchio soon arrives with his filthy, exhausted, and starving bride.  He bullies his servants into making dinner quickly for them.  Dinner is served, but Petruchio rants and raves like a maniac that the meat is burnt (it isn’t).  A terrified Kate tries to reason with him; he then throws all the meat at the servants.  Poor Kate must now do without supper.

He plans to be similarly abusive when he sees the condition of her bed, not letting her sleep in it.  In a soliloquy, he tells of his plans to tame Kate (see quote 2 of my ‘Analysis of The Taming of the Shrew‘), saying that all of his depriving her of food and sleep is out of perfect love for her, since the rejected necessities haven’t been worthily prepared for so fine a wife.  He’d be happy to see if anyone knows a better way to tame a shrew, for “‘Tis charity to show.”

Tranio (still pretending to be Lucentio) and Hortensio (no longer pretending to be Licio) speak of how ‘Cambio’ is successfully courting Bianca: they watch the two lovers walk by.  Hortensio speaks of his plans to marry a wealthy widow instead, then leaves.  Tranio is now speaking with Lucentio and Bianca, and all three are happy to be “rid of Licio.”

Biondello comes, telling of a pedant whom they can use in their plans.  The pedant arrives, saying he’s from Mantua; but Tranio tells him “‘Tis death for any one in Mantua/To come to Padua.”  For the dukes of each city have a ‘private quarrel’ now publicly proclaimed.  The pedant, to protect himself, must disguise himself as Vincentio, a man of Pisa, and help Lucentio in promising to pay the dowry for Bianca’s hand in marriage.  The pedant agrees to do so.

In Petruchio’s country house, poor Kate continues to go hungry and without sleep.  (See quote 3 of my ‘Analysis’.)  Grumio tortures her by speaking of delicious meats, then denying her the food, claiming “it is too choleric a meat.”  She begins beating him when Petruchio and Hortensio arrive with meat.  Petruchio offers her the meat, which he has lovingly prepared himself for her; he is sure his ‘diligent’ work deserves some thanks.  She reluctantly thanks him, but he’d have Hortensio eat it instead.

Since Bianca is about to be married, Petruchio and Kate are to wear their finest clothes and go to Padua.  He’s had a tailor and haberdasher prepare a gown and hat for her to wear; she loves the clothes, but he is quick to find fault with them.  She insists that all gentlewomen wear hats like the one made, but he won’t have her wear one until she learns to be gentle.

When he says the gown hasn’t been made in accordance with his instructions, the tailor insists that it has, and even shows Petruchio and Grumio them in writing; but they both deny this.  So Kate won’t have the dress, either.  She and Petruchio will have to go to Padua in their modest attire instead; the clothes don’t make the man (or woman), anyway.

Petruchio claims it is seven o’clock, but when she says it’s about two, he says they won’t go to Padua unless she agrees with his incorrect estimation of the time.  Defeated, she agrees with it.

In Padua, the pedant as ‘Vincentio’ helps Tranio (as ‘Lucentio’) with the promising of payment of the dowry in a scene with Baptista.  Plans are made for the real Lucentio to marry Bianca in a church.

On the road to Padua with Hortensio, Petruchio looks up at the sun and calls it the moon.  When Kate says it’s the sun, he threatens to take her back home unless she says it’s the moon, which she now does.  Then he corrects her, saying it’s the sun, and she says it’s whatever he wants it to be.  Hortensio is impressed, hoping he can similarly tame his shrewish new wife, the wealthy widow!

They see an old man approaching, and Petruchio calls him a pretty young maiden.  He tells Kate to “embrace her for her beauty’s sake”.  Kate immediately greets the “Young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet”.  Petruchio now corrects her, saying she’s spoken to an old man.  She begs his pardon for her “mad mistaking”.

The old man, having overcome his surprise and confusion at the ‘merry’ woman,  then introduces himself as Vincentio of Pisa, on his way to Padua to visit his son.  Since Petruchio and Kate are going there too, they all decide to go there together.

Act Five: In Padua, Lucentio and Bianca prepare to get married, when Petruchio, Katherina, Vincentio, and Grumio arrive.

Vincentio is enraged to find the pedant pretending to be him, and even more so to find Biondello, Tranio (dressed in Lucentio’s clothes), and Baptista all confirming that the pedant is ‘Vincentio’, while Tranio is ‘Lucentio’.  Convinced of his servants’ villainy, Vincentio accuses them of having murdered his son.  Tranio, wishing to protect himself from getting into trouble, calls for an officer to have Vincentio arrested.  Baptista agrees with ‘Lucentio’ that the old ‘dotard’ should go to jail.

Lucentio and Bianca, now married, arrive, apologizing to Vincentio and explaining away all the disguises and deceit.  Now Baptista is angry that his daughter has married a man without her father’s consent.  All will be explained and resolved when they go.

Kate wishes to follow them and watch the resolution: Petruchio agrees, but wants her to kiss him first.  She is too shy to kiss in public, so he threatens to take her back to Verona.  She now agrees to kiss him.

Finally, all are in Lucentio’s house, celebrating at the wedding party.  Bianca, and especially the widow, prove themselves to be even more shrewish than Kate.  Indeed, Kate is quite annoyed with the widow’s meanness.  At one point, the three women leave the room, and all the men assume Kate to be still the most shrewish of the three.  Petruchio denies this, confidently entering a wager with Lucentio and Hortensio.  Each man will call his wife back into the room; the first wife to come, thus being the most obedient, will cause her husband to win the wager.

Overconfident Lucentio goes first, telling his father he’ll pay in full if he loses.  He has Biondello fetch Bianca; the servant returns without her, reporting that she says she is busy and cannot come.  All are shocked.

Hortensio nervously has Biondello entreat his wife to come.  Biondello returns, saying the widow refuses to come; she’d have her husband come to her!

“Worse and worse; she will not come!” Petruchio says to this.  The other two husbands insist, though, that Kate will be the most disobedient of all.  Petruchio is sure she will obey, and he tells Grumio to tell Kate that he commands her to come.  Grumio fetches her, and she comes immediately, in all submission.  Everyone is amazed.

Petruchio tells her to get the other two wives, and bring them back, by force if necessary.  She goes to get them.  Petruchio promises to show the stunned spectators more proof of the obedience of his transformed wife.  She returns with Bianca and the widow.  Petruchio tells Kate to remove her cap, as he doesn’t like how it looks on her, and drop it at her feet.  She immediately does so, to the continued amazement of all in the room.

Bianca and the widow find Kate’s obedience silly; Lucentio wishes he’d gotten such silliness from Bianca, so as not to lose the large sum of money he’s lost in the wager.  Bianca calls him a fool for relying on her obedience.

Petruchio tells Kate to tell “these headstrong women/What duty they do owe their lords and husbands.”  The widow will hear none of it; Petruchio demands she listen.  Kate chides Bianca and the widow in a long speech about why wives should obey their husbands.   (See quote 4.)

Petruchio is touched and appreciative of Kate’s love and duty (quote 5).  He triumphantly leaves the party with Kate, while the others are left wondering how he succeeded in taming her.

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Analysis of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

The Taming of the Shrew is an early Shakespeare comedy, believed to have been written between 1590 and 1592.  Though this farce has always been a popular one, it isn’t without controversy.  The traditionalist attitude towards women that is depicted, especially in Katherina’s closing speech–about a wife’s required obedience to her husband, was problematical even back in Elizabethan times.  For this reason, modern productions try to soften the perceived sexism in various ways: for example, at the end of the Franco Zeffirelli film version, Katherina (played by Elizabeth Taylor) walks out on Petruchio (Richard Burton) without his permission; and in the 1929 film version with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (Petruchio), Katherina (played by Mary Pickford) gives Bianca an ironic wink during the closing speech.  There is always an indication that Katherina’s feisty spirit hasn’t been, and never will be, broken by any man.

I will argue, however, that there is absolutely no need to alter the ending for feminism’s sake.  What must be remembered is that the Petruchio and Katherina story is just the play-within-the-play, a farce staged for Christopher Sly, the main character of the Induction.  Though all too often cut out of productions, this Induction is, in spite of its brevity, the real story of the play.

Here are some quotes:

“I am as peremptory as she proud-minded,/And where two raging fires meet together,/They do consume the thing that feeds their fury.” –Petruchio, Act II, scene i, lines 130-132

“Thus have I politicly begun my reign,/And ’tis my hope to end successfully./My falcon now is sharp and passing empty,/And till she stoop she must not be full-gorg’d,/For then she never looks upon her lure.” –Petruchio, Act IV, scene i, lines 172-176

“What, did he marry me to famish me?”  –Katherina, Act IV, scene iii, line 3

“FIe, fie!  unknit that threatening unkind brow,/And dart not scornful glances from those eyes/To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor./It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,/Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds./And in no sense is meet or amiable./A woman mov’d is like a fountain troubled–/Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;/And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty/Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it./Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,/Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,/And for thy maintenance commits his body/To painful labour both by sea and land,/To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,/Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;/And craves no other tribute at thy hands/But love, fair looks, and true obedience–/Too little payment for so great a debt./Such duty as the subject owes the prince,/Even such a woman oweth to her husband;/And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,/And not obedient to his honest will,/What is she but a foul contending rebel/And graceless traitor to her loving lord?/I am asham’d that women are so simple/To offer war where they should kneel for peace;/Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,/When they are bound to serve, love, and obey./Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,/Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,/But that our soft conditions and our hearts/Should well agree with our external parts?/Come, come, you froward and unable worms!/My mind hath been as big as one of yours,/My heart as great, my reason haply more,/To bandy word for word and frown for frown;/But now I see our lances are but straws,/Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,/That seeming to be most which we indeed least are./Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,/And place your hands below your husband’s foot;/In token of which duty, if he please,/My hand is ready, may it do him ease.”  –Katherina, Act V, scene 2, lines 136-179

“Why, there’s a wench!  Come on, and kiss me, Kate.”  –Petruchio, Act V, scene 2, line 180

The Induction is the key to understanding this play, for it is the real story, not the Petruchio and Katherina one.  The Induction’s brevity should not distract us from its centrality.  The play staged before Christopher Sly should be regarded as no more important than the plays-within-plays in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Hamlet.  The length of the Petruchio and Katherina farce, admittedly covering the vast majority of The Taming of the Shrew, nonetheless shouldn’t deflect us from the conclusion that it’s of secondary importance to the Christopher Sly story.

It is unfortunate that the Induction is so often trivialized as a mere appendage, or framing device, that can easily be discarded from productions as superfluous.  It is key to understanding the play’s themes of deception, illusion, and denial of reality.

The shrew of the Petruchio story may be Katherina, but Christopher Sly is the shrew of the Induction.  We must remember that, in Shakespeare’s day, a shrew could be a nasty person of either sex, not just a woman, as ‘shrew’ is understood today.  Sly, a drunken oaf who refuses to pay for the ale he’s drunk at an alehouse in England, is just the kind of charmless fellow in need of a good taming.  In fact, he will be so well tamed that he’ll nod off during the performance of the play.

A lord and his men come to the alehouse after a hunt, and they see the drunken slob sleeping at a table.  As contemptuous of Sly as the annoyed hostess is, the lord decides to play a trick on him.  Sly is carried to a bedchamber in the lord’s house, carefully so as not to wake him.  When he wakes in bed, he’s been changed into the clothes of a lord, and a boy is dressed like a woman, pretending to be the lord’s obedient wife (!).  This tricking of Sly, that he’s a lord, should clearly indicate what we are to think of the ‘lord’ of any house, and of his ‘obedient’ wife: it’s all an act.

Sly is told that all of the life he remembers, that of a tinker, is a mere dream he’s had while being in a coma for fifteen years.  His life as a lord, into which he has woken, and surprisingly so, is his ‘real’ life.  His real life has been an illusion, apparently.

Next, he is to watch ‘a pleasant comedy’, since his would-be doctors say such entertainment would be conducive to the restoration of his health.  The play, that of the Petruchio and Katherina story, is so long that we, the audience, forget about the main story, the Induction, and are deceived into thinking that this mere play-within-a-play is the real story.  This switching of real and illusory events (i.e., Induction and play-within-a-play) parallels the trick played on Sly, whose sense of reality and illusion are also reversed (i.e., his comatose dream-life as a tinker versus his supposedly actual life as a lord).

We must always remember how sensitive the Bard was to the illusory nature of theatre, a notion he exploited for artistic effect in several of his plays.  The Taming of the Shrew is no exception to this: the play-within-a-play is to be understood as mere theatrical illusion, while the Christopher Sly story is the real one.

Another thing about Shakespeare: with his deep, penetrating insight into human nature, one of the main reasons his plays have endured for so many years, it is inconceivable that he could have had so simple-minded a view of humanity as to think that men are the natural rulers of women, however dominant such a bigoted view may have been in Elizabethan times.  The Taming of the Shrew, far from being a sexist play, very subtly satirizes male chauvinism, particularly in the Induction.

The play staged before Sly, being mere theatrical illusion, needn’t–and mustn’t–be taken seriously.  It’s just a farce, and its attitude towards women is accordingly absurd.  The themes of deception and denial of reality within the Petruchio and Katherina story only reinforce the absurd illogic of sexist thinking.

When Lucentio sees and falls in love with Katherina’s pretty younger sister Bianca, he cannot woo her, for their father Baptista insists on finding a husband for shrewish Katherina first.  Lucentio thus disguises himself as a teacher of Latin (‘Cambio’), while his servant Tranio pretends to be Lucentio.  Lucentio and Tranio even exchange clothes in the street, this seeming role reversal astonishing Biondello, Lucentio’s other servant.  Servant is master: this can be seen as a subtle indication of the true husband and wife relationship.

Similar to Lucentio’s deception, another suitor to Bianca, Hortensio, disguises himself as a music teacher, ‘Licio’.  When Baptista agrees to have ‘Lucentio’ marry Bianca (after Petruchio agrees to marry her nasty sister), a pedant from Mantua, deceived by ‘Lucentio’ into believing Mantuans’ presence in Padua is illegal (on pain of death), agrees to pretend to be Vincentio, Lucentio’s father, and pretend to agree to pay the dowry for Bianca’s marriage.  All acting and pretending, just like the chest-thumping, ‘dominant’ husband of traditional marriage.

Speaking of dominant husbands, Petruchio quickly shows himself to be as much of a shrew as Katherina (see quote one).  He beats his servants, shouts at them abusively, and behaves like a madman.  He denies reality throughout the story, pretending that his bride’s real name is Kate, that she’s sweet and gentle, and that she wants to marry him as much as he does her (she of course doesn’t want to marry him at all).

More denial of reality comes after their marriage.  When Kate is in his house in Verona, he raves wildly at his servants that his dinner is badly cooked (it’s fine) and her bed is unfit for her to sleep on (it’s also fine).  Later, he rejects a beautiful, perfectly good dress Kate would have worn to Bianca’s wedding, claiming the tailor got the measurements wrong (the tailor hadn’t, and insisted he had the correct measurements from Petruchio, while Petruchio’s servant Grumio denies it, knowing full well that no mistake was made).

Petruchio pretends the time is seven o’clock, when it is actually about two; he insists that she agree with his deliberate inaccuracy (Act IV, scene iii).  On the way to Padua to attend Bianca’s wedding (Act IV, scene v), Petruchio pretends the sun shining in the sky is actually the moon, and that an old man (the real Vincentio) is a pretty young woman, again demanding that Kate go along with his bizarre distortion of reality.

All of these caricatures of reality symbolize the phoniness of male dominance of women, a phoniness that is most clearly shown in the final scene, when Bianca and a widow prove themselves to be even more shrewish towards Lucentio and Hortensio than Kate has ever been.  When Kate gives the final speech about obedience to husbands, we should clearly see that this is the ultimate denial of reality: wives are, always have been, and always will be, thoroughly indomitable.  Shakespeare knew–he just pretended he didn’t.

Detailed Synopsis of ‘As You Like It’

Act One: Forced by his elder brother, Oliver, to do menial work, Orlando complains of him to Adam, the family’s aged servant.  Though Orlando’s late father, Sir Rowland de Boys, gave an inheritance to all three of his sons, Oliver, the eldest, refuses to let Orlando, the youngest, have his share.  Orlando will no longer endure this unfair treatment.

Oliver enters, scorning Orlando when he demands his inheritance.  The brothers fight, and Orlando has Oliver in a headlock, not letting him go until he says he’ll give Orlando the inheritance.  Let go, Oliver speaks abusively to Adam, who protests the abuse.  Oliver leaves angrily.

Elsewhere, Oliver meets with Charles, a big, strong wrestler who’s killed men in wrestling matches.  Charles mentions the usurped Duke Senior and his men, who are living like Robin Hood in the forest of Arden.  Charles also says that Orlando wishes to fight him in a wrestling match, and warns Oliver that Orlando will most likely be killed in the fight.  Oliver, though saying he will try to dissuade Orlando from wrestling Charles, secretly would like his brother to die in the match, of course.

In the next scene, Rosalind complains to her cousin and good friend Celia of how sad she is that her father, Duke Senior, has been usurped and banished by Duke Frederick, her uncle and Celia’s father.  Celia tries to cheer her up by speaking with her about love.  Touchstone the jester enters and makes some witty remarks.  Then Le Beau, a courtier, arrives, and tells them all about the wrestling match between Charles and Orlando.  They all go over to watch it.

The girls meet Orlando and try to dissuade him from fighting the much bigger and stronger Charles.  Orlando says he doesn’t care if he dies, for he has no friends, nor anything to live for, and his absence will give more room to the rest of the people of the world.  He and Rosalind are already beginning to have feelings for each other.  Charles arrives, as does Duke Frederick.  The match begins.

At first, Charles is clearly winning, though Orlando won’t give up.  Celia wishes she could be invisible and trip Charles.  Orlando, however, gets lucky and wins the match, injuring Charles badly enough that other men must life the heavy wrestler and carry him off.

Duke Frederick congratulates Orlando and asks him his name.  When Orlando says he’s the son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys, a friend of Duke Senior, Frederick leaves angrily.

The girls go to speak with Orlando, congratulating him.  Rosalind gives him a necklace to remember her by, and they’re already in love, though they haven’t said so.  The girls leave him.

Alone with Celia, Rosalind tells her of her love for Orlando, and that, since her father and his were friends, that makes her love of Orlando all the luckier.  Celia says that her father disliked Sir Rowland de Boys, but that she likes Orlando no less for that.

Duke Frederick enters and tells Rosalind she’s banished from the dukedom.  When she asks why, he says it’s because she’s Duke Senior’s daughter.  Though he tolerated her before, for Celia’s sake, he now feels his power is threatened by the likes of her.  When Celia tries to defend her, he calls Celia a fool for not worrying about Rosalind as a threat to her future power.  He leaves.

Celia comforts Rosalind, insisting that her father has banished her, too, for she has no life without Rosalind’s company.  The girls plan to dress as poor people to avoid being enticing targets for highway bandits.  And since Rosalind is the taller of the two, she’ll disguise herself as a boy, and call herself ‘Ganymede’.  Celia will pretend to be ‘his’ sister, and call herself ‘Aliena’ (foreigner).  They’ll have Touchstone accompany them for protection, go into Arden, and look for Duke Senior.

Act Two: In Arden, Duke Senior speaks with his men of how much better life in the forest is, compared with the phoney court.  With the harshness of nature, one has honesty instead of flattery, and nature can impart much wisdom to us.  (See quote 1 from my ‘Analysis of As You Like It‘.)

He asks of the melancholy Jacques (pronounced ‘JAY-queez’), and is told that Jacques is weeping over the killing of a deer.

Back in the dukedom, Adam warns Orlando of Oliver’s plot to burn down Orlando’s home while he’s sleeping.  Orlando plans to flee into Arden; Adam wants to go with him, and offers him all the money he’s saved from his employment with the de Boys family.  Orlando is touched by the generosity of the older generation, a virtue he feels is lacking among the young.  They prepare to leave for Arden.

‘Ganymede’, ‘Aliena’, and Touchstone have been walking long to get to Arden, and are all exhausted.  They see two shepherds, older Corin and younger Silvius.  Silvius is complaining of his unrequited love for the shepherdess Phoebe, saying that Corin, in his age, has forgotten of the young’s pain from lovesickness.  Silvius leaves.

‘Ganymede’, affecting a boy’s voice and manner, asks Corin where ‘he’ and ‘his’ friends can find accommodation.  Corin tells them of the house of a churlish old shepherd who wants to sell it, and he takes the three tired travellers there.

After Amiens, a singer in Duke Senior’s company, and his backing musicians perform a song, Jacques adds a verse with the word ‘Ducdame’, explaining to them that it’s ‘a Greek invocation, to draw fools into a circle.’  Amiens sings the new verse.

Orlando and Adam are entering the forest in the evening.  Adam is deathly tired, and desperately needs rest and food, which Orlando searches for.

Duke Senior and his men arrive at the camp with the food from their hunt.  Jacques enters, laughing and saying he’s seen a jester in motley clothes going about in the woods.  He chatted with the jester, and Jacques laughed at the fool’s witty remarks.  Now Jacques wishes he were a fool: ‘Motley’s the only wear.’

Orlando, brandishing a sword, surprises them, demanding they give him their food.  Duke Senior gently says he is free to eat with them if he wishes.  Disarmed by their unexpected gentleness, Orlando blushingly sheathes his sword and apologizes for his roughness, saying he assumed rudeness was a universal trait in the forest.  He mentions Adam’s age and weakness, and his desperate need for food and rest.  Duke Senior promises he and his men won’t touch any of the food till Orlando returns with the old man.  Orlando hurries off to get Adam.

Duke Senior speaks of how we all suffer in the ‘wide and universal theatre’ of the world.  Jacques speaks of how we all are actors, playing the roles of seven ages throughout our lives.  (See the second quote from my ‘Analysis of AYLI‘.)

Orlando returns with Adam, and everyone eats that night while Amiens sings a sad song.

Act Three: Back in the dukedom, Duke Frederick is paranoid about everyone leaving the court to go to Arden; he forces Oliver to find and kill Orlando.  Oliver rushes off, glad to do the job.

The next day, Orlando, ecstatic with love for Rosalind, starts carving her name in tree bark and writing love poems, sticking the paper on which they’re written on tree branches.  He does this all over the forest.

Corin asks Touchstone how he likes the rustic life; the jester answers this question with his usual wit, comparing life in Arden with life in the court.  Celia finds one of the poems and reads it to Rosalind.  Touchstone hears, and begins improvising witty parodies of the poem, annoying Rosalind.  Celia realizes Orlando is the poet (third quote), and tells Rosalind, who is upset, since she’s still dressed as Ganymede.

Jacques meets Orlando, and they make a witty exchange, saying how displeased they are to have met; Jacques asks Orlando not to mar the trees with any more of his bad verses.  ‘Ganymede’ finds Orlando, and Jacques leaves.

‘Ganymede’ asks Orlando if he knows what the time is; when Orlando says he couldn’t possibly know in a forest, ‘he’ says that he couldn’t possibly be in love then, for lovesick people can know the exact time anywhere from counting every sad second of the day.  Also, a man in love would be ill-groomed.

Not knowing he’s speaking to Rosalind, Orlando insists that he loves her.  ‘Ganymede’ claims ‘he’ can cure Orlando of his lovesickness by ‘pretending to be Rosalind’ while he pretends to love ‘Ganymede as Rosalind’.

In another part of the forest, Touchstone hopes to marry the country girl Audrey, and he even gets a priest, Sir Oliver Martext, to marry them; but Jacques intervenes, advising Touchstone not to use Sir Oliver’s dubious services, and to find a church instead.  Touchstone thus dismisses Sir Oliver.

Back to where ‘Ganymede’ and ‘Aliena’ are, Rosalind complains of how Orlando hasn’t returned to meet her at the promised time.  Corin comes over and tells ‘Ganymede’ and ‘Aliena’ about a true ‘pageant’ of love.  He leads them to see Silvius complaining of his love to disdainful Phoebe.  ‘Ganymede’ scolds her for not realizing how lucky she is to have Silvius’ love, since she’s ‘not for all markets’.  Though Phoebe doesn’t like the rudeness of ‘Ganymede’, she sure fancies ‘him’, thus shocking Rosalind, who tries to discourage Phoebe’s advances.  After ‘Ganymede’ and ‘Aliena’ leave, Phoebe tells Silvius to help her write an angry letter complaining to ‘him’ of ‘his’ rudeness to her.

Act Four: ‘Ganymede’ and Jacques speak of the latter’s melancholy, whose uniqueness Jacques describes as having many diverse ingredients.  Orlando appears, and Jacques leaves.

‘Ganymede’ chides Orlando for being late.  (As the discussion continues, quote four appears.)  With ‘Aliena’ playing the role of priest, ‘Ganymede’ and Orlando have a mock wedding.  He says he’ll love Rosalind ‘For ever and a day’.  (Next comes quote five.)  Orlando then leaves, having promised not to be late for their next meeting.  Rosalind then tells Celia of ‘how many fathom deep’ she is in love, ‘But it cannot be sounded’.

Elsewhere in the forest, Jacques complains to the lords of their killing of another deer.  He demands they sing a song for the deer.

Back with ‘Ganymede’ and ‘Aliena’, Silvius gives ‘him’ a letter written by Phoebe, complaining of ‘his’ disdainfulness to her.  Oliver then appears; looking on ‘Aliena’, he’s quite taken by her beauty.  He explains to her and ‘Ganymede’ that Orlando can’t be there at the promised time, since he’s been injured by a lioness, having defended then-sleeping Oliver from the beast (and a snake).  Seeing Orlando’s bloody handkerchief as proof, ‘Ganymede’ faints.  Oliver tells ‘him’ to be more of a man.

Act Five: Touchstone learns of a country fellow named William who fancies Audrey.  Jealous Touchstone has a witty conversation with William (see quote six), then scares him off.

Now reconciled to Orlando, Oliver tells him of his love for ‘Aliena’, and of their plan to be married.  Though happy for his brother, Orlando is sad from lacking Rosalind.  He tells ‘Ganymede’ he can no longer pretend; ‘Ganymede’, claiming ‘he’ knows magic, claims ‘he’ can make Rosalind appear.

Silvius and Phoebe go over to ‘Ganymede’ and Orlando.  Phoebe tells Silvius to explain to ‘Ganymede’ what love is; Silvius speaks of the pain and devotion one feels, and that he feels that way for Phoebe, who says she feels that way for ‘Ganymede’.  Orlando in turn says he feels that way for Rosalind, while ‘Ganymede’ says ‘he’ feels that way ‘for no woman’.  ‘Ganymede’ can endure no more of this: ‘he’ promises to fix everything for all of them, saying that if Phoebe can’t love ‘Ganymede’, she must then love Silvius.  Phoebe agrees to this.  They will all meet again the next day.

Elsewhere in the forest, Touchstone and Audrey are visited by two singing boys.  Touchstone doesn’t like their performance.

The next day, everyone comes together where Rosalind will appear.  Duke Senior notes how ‘Ganymede’ looks rather like his daughter Rosalind.  Orlando agrees.  ‘Ganymede’ and ‘Aliena’ go into some bushes.  When Touchstone appears with Audrey, Duke Senior and Jacques talk with the jester, who has many witty things to say.  Jacques mentions again what ‘a rare fellow’ he is, ‘and yet a fool’.

Rosalind and Celia appear, in beautiful dresses, accompanied by Hymen, the god of marriage.  Everyone, especially Orlando, Oliver, Duke Senior, and Phoebe, stare at the three in amazement.  Hymen marries Orlando to Rosalind, Oliver to Celia, Silvius to Phoebe (who clearly has no intention of having a woman for her lord), and Touchstone to Audrey, a comically awkward match.

Celebrations are in order, with Amiens singing and everyone dancing.  Jacques, brother of Orlando and Oliver, appears and tells everyone of Duke Frederick coming into Arden with an army and planning to do war with them all.  Racing through the forest, however, the usurping duke met a religious man who dissuaded him from going ahead with his attack.  Instead, Frederick has given up his power and decided to be a religious man himself.  Duke Senior has his dukedom back.

Melancholy Jacques asks Jacques de Boys of the religious man, and would rather find him and receive his spiritual enlightenment than join the–to Jacques–empty-headed celebrations.  Duke Senior asks him to stay, but he won’t.  He leaves immediately.  The celebrations continue.

Epilogue: Rosalind ends the play with a few words to the men and women in the audience, entreating them, who love each other, to enjoy the play as much as it should please them.  During the speech, indirect acknowledgement is made to the fact that a boy actor is playing ‘her’.  ‘She’ asks the audience to bid ‘her’ farewell.

Analysis of ‘As You Like It’

A pastoral comedy Shakespeare is believed to have written about 1599, As You Like It has been met with a varied critical response, though I am one of the play’s staunch supporters.  The story is about Rosalind, who is banished from the oppressive court of Duke Frederick, usurping brother of her father, Duke Senior.  Duke Frederick is the father of Rosalind’s cousin, Celia, who flees with her.  The two young women, in disguise and accompanied by Touchstone, the witty court jester, enter the Edenic forest of Arden, where they’re eventually reunited with Duke Senior and all his courtiers, who have also been banished by Frederick, before the play starts.

Others to leave the court and enter the forest are Orlando and the aged Adam, soon to be chased by Orlando’s wicked older brother, Oliver.  The two brothers are soon reconciled, and both have fallen in love with the women; Touchstone is matched with a country girl, Audrey.  The couples are all married at the end of the play with another country couple, Silvius and Phoebe.  While on the way into the forest with an army to do war on his brother, Duke Frederick surprisingly gives up the dukedom on meeting a religious man.

The two settings of the play are sharply contrasted: the corrupt court, where there is much scheming and little happiness; and the idyllic forest of Arden, a relative paradise on earth where the worst sorrows are mere complaints of unrequited love.  (The name of the forest could be a portmanteau of ‘Arcadia’ and ‘Eden’; or it could simply be an anglicizing of Ardennes, since the story is set in France.)

Here are some famous quotes:

“Sweet are the uses of adversity/Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,/Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;/And this our life, exempt from public haunt,/Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,/Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”

–Duke Senior, Act II, scene i, lines 12-17

“All the world’s a stage,/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances,/And one man in his time plays many parts,/His acts being seven ages.  At first, the infant:/Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms,/And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel,/And shining morning face, creeping like snail/Unwillingly to school.  And then the lover,/Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad/Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.  Then a soldier,/Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,/Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,/Seeking the bubble reputation/Even in the cannon’s mouth.  And then the justice,/In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,/With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,/Full of wise saws and modern instances;/And so he plays his part.  The sixth age shifts/Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,/With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,/His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide/For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,/Turning again toward childish treble, pipes/And whistles in his sound.  Last scene of all,/That ends this strange eventful history,/Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

–Jacques, Act II, scene vii, lines 139-166

“O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful!  and yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all whooping.”  –Celia, Act III, scene ii, lines 178-180

“”Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?”  –Rosalind, Act IV, scene i, lines 108-109

“No, no, Orlando: men are April when they woo, December when they wed: maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.”

–Rosalind, Act IV, scene i, lines 131-134

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

–Touchstone, Act V, scene i, lines 19-31

As You Like It is Shakespeare’s most self-consciously theatrical play.  As a playwright and actor, he was always sensitive to the illusory nature of theatre, to a degree far greater than most of us, and he enjoyed playing little games with that artificiality in the plays-within-plays of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, and others.  The bad acting in the ‘Pyramis and Thisbe’ play (interrupted by constant laughter in the audience in MND), Hamlet’s outbursts during the performance of ‘The Murder of Gonzago’, and the brief interruption of the Petruchio and Katharine play to wake nodding Christopher Sly in TOS, are all pre-Brechtian forms of ‘alienation effect’, meant to take away the illusion of the story and remind the audience that they’re really just watching actors on a stage.

In As You Like It, the Bard uses no plays-within-plays to demonstrate theatrical artificiality, but he emphasizes that dramatic phoniness in other ways.

Duke Frederick, not the rightful duke, usurps the dukedom of his elder brother, Duke Senior, and plays the role, as it were, of duke.  Banished Rosalind and her faithful cousin Celia, ladies of the court, leave for the forest of Arden dressed as poor people; Rosalind even goes so far as to disguise herself and act like a boy!

Orlando–as much an heir to the fortune of his father, Sir Rowland de Boys, as his wicked elder brother, Oliver–plays the role of lowly farmer at the beginning of the play.  Then, Orlando plays the role of wrestler in a match against the far bigger and stronger Charles.  Entering Arden, he plays the roles of bandit and love poet, both foolishly.

Jacques, of course, gives his lengthy speech on how we all play seven roles our whole lives: “All the world’s a stage…”  First, we play the role of baby, then those of the schoolboy, lover, soldier, respectable man of society, aging man who watches his body slowly deteriorate, and finally the senile old man who suffers from dementia and dies a baby all over again.

Another insightful moment from Jacques comes when he sings the ‘Ducdame’ verse, “a Greek invocation, to draw fools into a circle.”  Aren’t crowd-pleasing comedies the same thing, that is, just theatrical invocations drawing audiences into circles, so they can watch meaningless frivolity?  Who knows what ‘Ducdame’ is supposed to mean?  It quite possibly means nothing, yet people continue to speculate in their circles nonetheless.

Not everyone thinks As You Like It is on the same artistic level as, for example, Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew, or the great tragedies.  It’s assumed by some that As You Like It is a mere crowd-pleaser (as even the play’s title suggests).  I disagree.  I say it’s both a crowd-pleaser and a satire of the crowd-pleaser.  Just as much as Touchstone speaks derisively of the performance of the two boy singers in Act V, scene iii, Shakespeare was deriding, however indirectly, the hack playwrights of his day.

I see Shakespeare as the Frank Zappa of Elizabethan theatre.  Like Zappa, the Bard wrought his art in a genre that, during their lifetimes, was given slight regard by contemporary art snobs; fortunately and deservedly, their work has been posthumously viewed, however, with much more respect.  Also, like Zappa, Shakespeare took his art form, experimented with it radically, subverted it, and used it to critique society.  Not only was his audience laughing at his comedies, he was laughing at the audience, too, for quite often not seeing the deeper meaning, however subtly shown, in the writing.

Though AYLI is supposed to be a gleeful comedy, the wisest characters are the fool Touchstone and Jacques, who significantly is always melancholy.  Jacques won’t even join the others in their–to him–empty celebrations at the play’s end.  He’d rather find spiritual enlightenment from the religious man who’s converted Duke Frederick so suddenly…and in so contrived a fashion.

Jacques’s speech, “All the world’s a stage…”, is the most famous part of the play, put right in the middle of it, and as mentioned above, it’s all about the sad and phoney roles we all play throughout our lives…an odd, subversive thing to put in an ostensibly cheerful, mindlessly crowd-pleasing pastoral comedy.

The play is all about artificiality, pretence, theatricality, deceit, and role-playing.  Rosalind, disguised as the boy Ganymede (a name whose homoerotic overtones should be obvious to anyone well-versed in Greek myth), represents what for Shakespeare must have been an amusing dramatic joke: female characters were always played by boys in his day.   Furthermore, ‘Ganymede’ tells lovesick Orlando ‘he’ will play the role of Rosalind in an attempt to cure Orlando of his yearning for her (actually, she’s testing his love for her).

So, we have, in theatrical terms, a boy playing a girl playing a boy playing a girl.  In terms of the story, we have Rosalind, who’s playing Ganymede, who’s playing Rosalind.  Seem reasonable to you?

On top of that, Orlando’s in on this farce, pretending that an effeminate ‘boy’ (appropriately named Ganymede, as we observed above) is his lover.  Celia plays the role of priest in a mock marriage of the would-be (and will-be) lovers in Act IV, scene one.

But in the end, Orlando cannot continue pretending, so ‘Ganymede’, pretending to know magic, says ‘he’ can make Rosalind appear.  When she does come out of the bushes with Celia, both women now in beautiful dresses, Shakespeare deliberately makes things even more contrived by presenting, out of nowhere, Hymen, the god of marriage!

The deus ex machina (or ‘god out of the machine’) was a contrived device used in ancient Greek tragedy to give a quick and easy resolution to an almost unsolvable problem.  A god would appear, coming down from heaven, lowered onto the stage by a crane, and he would fix whatever the problem was in the tragedy.

Shakespeare seems to be subverting this idea, for no god is needed to marry Rosalind and Orlando, Oliver and Celia, Sylvius and Phoebe, and Touchstone and Audrey.  All Rosalind has to do is change back into women’s clothes, and Orlando will have her; then the four couples can find, for example, the religious man who’s converted Duke Frederick so miraculously, and they can all be married.

Which brings us to the second contrived element at the end of the play.  Another Jacques, younger brother of Oliver and older brother of Orlando, appears at an all-too-well-timed moment to announce that Duke Frederick raised an army to help him make war on all who’d left the increasingly unpopular dukedom to live in Arden; yet Frederick’s had a conversation with a religious man in the forest, and repenting all of a sudden, he’s given up the dukedom to live a monastic life!

This absurdly improbable resolution of Duke Senior’s usurpation outdoes the bizarre appearance of Hymen by far; and what must be stressed here is that its phoniness is too blatant and painfully obvious to have been an oversight on Shakespeare’s part.  How could a writer of his genius have allowed himself to settle for such an uninspired ending?  Obviously, he intended this double deus ex machina ending as a further development of the play’s themes of theatricality and artificiality.  What’s more, he perverts the deus ex machina ending by having no god resolve the problem of Duke Frederick’s intended attack, but instead puts a god in a place where one simply isn’t needed.

Finally, this deus ex machina ending, in a perverse distortion of its original function, makes fun of other, less talented contemporary playwrights, who may well have often used it.  Here we see Shakespeare in true Zappa-esque form.  By writing a play with an obviously phoney ending, the Bard is mocking less capable writers: don’t ever believe he was being a bad writer himself.

Analysis of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy William Shakespeare is believed to have written around the mid-1590s. It is not known what Shakespeare’s independent source was, if there was any, for the main plot: it seems to have been his own original idea.  The story of Pyramus and Thisbe, however, comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the characters Theseus and Hippolyta are from Greek Myth.

The story revolves around the actions of three groups of characters.  In Athens, Theseus (the Duke of the city), who has just captured Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, plans to marry her.  Meanwhile, Lysander and Hermia, two young lovers, wish to escape from Athens and its laws, which Hermia’s father (Egeus) wants to use to force her to marry Demetrius.  Demetrius used to love Helena, who still loves him.

The second group of characters is a group of would-be actors, including writer/director Peter Quince, Nick Bottom, Francis Flute, Snout, Snug, and Robin Starveling.  They want to put on a play (the story being Pyramus and Thisbe) before the duke and his bride as part of their wedding celebration.

In the forest outside Athens, there is trouble in the fairy kingdom.  Oberon, the fairy king, wants an Indian changeling boy from Titania, Oberon’s queen, who refuses to give up the boy.  Oberon therefore tells Puck, his fairy servant, to fetch a magic flower with a kind of potion, or love-juice, inside it–he will put this love-juice on Titania’s eyelids as she sleeps, making her fall in love with whoever, or whatever, she sees upon waking, and during her foolishly amorous state Oberon will get the Indian boy.

Much of the humour of the play comes from the interactions between these three groups of characters.  The play is set in ancient Athens during the day, and in a nearby forest at night.  Here are some famous quotes:

Ay me! for aught that I could ever read/Could ever hear by tale or history,/The course of true love never did run smooth.  –Lysander, to Hermia

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,/And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.  –Helena

Lord, what fools these mortals be!  –Puck

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,/Are of imagination all compact*.  –Theseus

*composed, made up

If we shadows have offended,/Think but this, and all is mended,/That you have but slumber’d here/While these visions did appear./And this weak and idle theme,/No more yielding than a dream;/Gentles, do not reprehend;/If you pardon, we will mend.  –Puck

The central theme of this play is the foolishness of being in love, as most of the above quotes imply.  “Dote”, which used to mean “foolishly love”, is said many times in the play.

Demetrius foolishly abandons his true love, Helena, for Hermia, who will never love him.  Helena foolishly continues to love Demetrius even after he’s proven himself untrue, and has scorned her many times to her face.  Lysander’s and Hermia’s foolish love puts her in danger of the Athenian death penalty, then exposes them to the dangers of a forest at night, with its fairy magic.  The love potion in the flower makes Lysander foolishly love Helena; and while it’s also used to correct Demetrius in making him love Helena again, the absurdity of both men loving Helena, so suddenly, underscores the idea of love’s capacity to make fools of us.

The supreme example of this absurdity, though, is Titania’s being in love with Bottom, when he has his ass’s head!  Finally, the foolishness of Pyramus’ and Thisbe’s love, so emphatically displayed by the incompetent production and acting of Bottom and the other “rude mechanicals”, is seen in Pyramus’ suicide, him mistakenly assuming Thisbe is dead, followed by Thisbe’s own suicide.  (A tragic example of this kind of misunderstanding between two young lovers would soon be seen again in Romeo and Juliet, which Shakespeare may have been working on at the time.)

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